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A Preview Of The Race For California’s 41st Congressional District

Tomorrow, voters in District 41 – which includes Riverside, Moreno Valley, and Perris – will have a choice between four candidates: Democratic incumbent Mark Takano, Democratic challenger Grace Williams, Republican challenger Aja Smith, and write-in candidate Azra Akram with no party preference. 

We’ll start with the incumbent. Mark Takano says his 8 years in Congress have been substantive, and that he’s managed to accomplish a lot despite not having a Democratic majority in Congress.

Takano: “My first four years coincided with President Obama and I spent much of that time working with the Democratic caucus to defend the Affordable Care Act, to protect the pre-existing conditions protections that were in the Affordable Care Act and Patient Protection Act, also known as Obamacare. From the outset, the 41st District had over 20, 21 percent of its people uninsured. With the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the expanded Medicaid, and the exchange Covered California, that number has been brought to less than 5 percent. So all that work I did in the first four years of office was very much worth it.”

Takano also says he’s held President Trump accountable during the last three years.

Takano: “As we took the majority in 2018 I became the Chairman of a full committee and I have used my position to hold this administration accountable to make sure that any abuse of power is checked and also during that time I have been an advocate and played a key role for bringing 5.5 million dollar downtown skills training and job placement center to the downtown Perris area, which is going to create hundreds of jobs.

Takano also says his office has delivered excellent constituent service.

Takano: “More than 4 million dollars in federal dollars have been returned to the community in owed benefits. I'm very proud of the work that our case workers do in serving the people of Riverside, so whether you're talking about casework, legislation, holding a rogue president accountable, I have I think a very solid and substantive record and I humbly ask the people of Riverside County to return me to Congress for another two years.”

Next there’s Democrat Grace Williams, who describes herself as a second-generation immigrant and veteran who’s worked in economics and community development for nearly 20 years.

Williams: “In the city of Perris that I live in, a lot of the stories of community members that I interact with remind me a lot of how I was brought up because I grew up in poverty. And I also know that a lot of communities, especially undocumented families, are very hungry to do the right thing by their families, they're here to build a future, they want to experience the American Dream, they want to experience the pursuit of happiness and what that mean for future generations, and I support that wholeheartedly.”

Williams was born in Washington to immigrant parents, then raised in the Samoan Islands. She returned to the United States when she got a scholarship to the University of Southern California.

grace_williams.mp3
KVCR's Benjamin Purper interviews Grace Williams.

Williams: “So as an immigrant running for Congress, my push is to increase opportunities for all people, our immigrants, our non-immigrants, I think everybody has to be given a chance to pursue what they believe is the American Dream for themselves so they can be successful. So that's one of my passions.

Williams says vocational training for residents in the 41st District is one of her priorities.

Williams: “Not everybody's going to go to college, and so my big push right now especially in disadvantaged communities is to improve vocational training from kindergarten through high school. I have a program called Career Promise Program where the mission is to graduate high school students with a diploma in one hand and a certificate in a skill in another, which is why the skill center at Perris is so critical, because we can have kids coming out of high school with a certificate in welding, and have a very successful career, not need a college degree to be a welder in any industry they want to be in.”

Then there’s Aja Smith, the Republican challenger. Smith is also a veteran and has lived in the district since 1988.

Smith: “I served as civil service reserve technician for 14 years at March Air Reserve Base here in the 41st congressional district. I come from a big military family, my grandfather was a Korean War Veteran, my grandmother was a Korean war veteran in the Air Force as well, and plus she was a nurse. And my great uncle was a Tuskegee Airman and my grandfather on my parental side, my dad's father, he was also in the United States Navy.”

Smith says attracting good jobs and job training to the area is a priority for her. 

Smith: “That's what we need here, we have great universities here in the district, don't get me wrong - I graduated from Cal Baptist University, we have UCR, we have Cal State San Bernardino even though it's in a different district but down the street. But to start bringing those opportunities for young people, especially young females. As a minority female, I would love to see more Latino and black females get into STEM - science, technology, engineering, math.”

aja_smith.mp3
KVCR's Benjamin Purper interviews Aja Smith.

Smith says her other priorities include national defense and crime rates.

Smith: “We have to keep our military funded. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom, I even served on the last administration where they depleted a lot of our funding so it was really hard to do your job. I ended up having to buy office of supplies out of my pocket. And also crime, we need to start working with crime, because I know it's a California law with state laws, but some of the federal laws and federal representatives I see, they need to have a bigger influence and really sit down with the local electeds, meaning City Council and state, and some of these laws - early release - we need to make sure that people are being streamlined a little bit more carefully.”

Write-in candidate Azra Akram could not be reached for an interview.